Mount Matthews Mistakes

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    • #51571 Reply
      Tony Gazley

      My headlight shone out of the pitch-black darkness like a beacon to a very relieved Tony who had just parked his car outside the locked gate to the Catchpool Valley, Remutaka FP and started walking along the road. We gave each other a big hug while simultaneously wondering aloud how we had managed to get ourselves into this whole absurd situation where we finished the day at completely different roadends from each other! Sounds absolutely ludicrous and you may well wonder how a situation like that can even happen, but we certainly showed just how easy it can be to misplace your tramping buddy. On Strava it looked like I had done a solo traverse from Corner Creek to Wainuiomata Coast Road but that certainly wasn’t the plan by any means. Tony and I planned to do an off-track day trip from the coast at Corner Creek up Hinakitaka Stream to the summit of Mt Matthews and then loop back down Corner Creek. That was the plan! What eventuated was something else a bit different!

      We started out from Corner Creek just after 9 am and made quick work around the Coast to Mukamuka Valley. I really like Mukamuka Valley with how wild it feels and how it surprises you with the mouth of the valley opening out to sweeping views of Palliser Bay. It wasn’t a long walk up the valley before we turned off to follow Hinakitaka Stream which was even more beautiful. As we slowly climbed up the stream we were treated to hidden waterfalls, lush green moss and giant boulders that we had to clamber up and over. It was good fun to be off the beaten track again and exploring somewhere new. It was pretty magical and hard to believe we were still so close to Wellington. It actually felt like we were down the South Island. There were a few rock cairns but navigation was easy without needing to rely on them as it was simply a matter of following the stream up and there was always an obvious route around any waterfalls. I did find myself in mid-thigh deep water at one point but that was more me having too much fun rather than out of necessity

      Palliser Bay

      Mukamuka Stream

      Hinakitaka Stream

      Lower Hinakitaka Stream

      One of the many waterfalls

      Another of the waterfalls

      We stopped for lunch at midday at around 500 m elevation.  We had read from a trip report from another tramping club that it was best to head up to the Mt Matthews southern ridge on the left of a large and partly regenerating slip. I was content to have a longer lunch break and just enjoy the quiet while Tony was eager to get a head start up the hill since he knew I could catch him up. We agreed he would make a start but not get too far ahead since we were off track. Strangely enough, as he left I had a bad gut feeling about him going on ahead but I ignored it and didn’t say anything, which turned out to be a big mistake. We had split up for short intervals on previous trips for toilet breaks and pacing as we had both done a fair bit of tramping solo but then we had always been on track which is of course an entirely different beast to being off-track where you choose your own route.

      I started up the slip after Tony not knowing how dramatically the day was going to change after this moment. I had just come off two unplanned night shifts at work and was admittedly a bit tired from these so I think this was a factor in me going a bit astray with how I navigated up the slip. Unfortunately, I chose a bad line that saw me in a gut on the actual slip itself rather than on the left edge of it. This meant I then had to completely commit to going up it as I couldn’t easily traverse back. It was tough going and I slid a few times before I finally managed to get to the edge. There was no elegant way of getting off the slip aside from throwing myself at the bank and flopping down a bit like a seal hauling itself out of the water. I lay there for a minute while my legs recovered from the adrenaline fueled climb I had just made them endure. 

      Once recovered I looked around for Tony and couldn’t see him which I was surprised by. I started calling and whistling but there was no response. I couldn’t see any rock cairns or arrows that Tony had always left for me in the past on previous trips. I decided he must have climbed up the hill faster than he thought and headed up the ridgeline so I made a start thinking I would soon come across him. I kept waiting to see him but he just didn’t appear. I now started to get a bit concerned and decided it was best for me to head to the summit of Mt Matthews just to make sure he wasn’t waiting for me there. I got to the summit and again found no Tony! I decided that perhaps he was behind me somewhere and we had managed to pass each other without knowing— certainly possible with being off track although I had stuck pretty hard to the ridge heading towards the summit. I decided to wait for a while at the summit of Mt Matthews, I put on more warm clothes and found a bit of cell reception so I could fire off a text to Tony saying where I was and then made a plan of attack. I would wait there for a while then go back along the ridgeline looking for him before heading out to Catchpool as that was now my safest and quickest way out solo in the remaining winter daylight hours. I sent a message to Tony saying I would wait at the summit until 4 pm and then walk out and notify emergency services if I still hadn’t heard from him by then to buy him a bit of time to get out safely as I knew Tony was well experienced and had plenty of gear including a PLB if he needed it. 

      Palliser Bay from the summit of Mt Matthews

      While waiting to hopefully hear back from Tony I took in the view of Lake Wairarapa, Lake Onoke and Palliser Bay. After waiting a while I backtracked along the ridgeline calling and whistling. After doing this with no success I headed back to the summit of Mt Matthews planning to wait until my specified time. I had decided to snuggle down in my survival bag out of the wind in a sheltered patch of leatherwood but before I could even do this I finally received a message from Tony! He had been waiting on the edge of the slip and was sure we wouldn’t miss each other and when I didn’t appear or reply to his calling he worried I may have come to grief on the steep lower slopes so had waited a good while before climbing back down expecting to find me patching myself up in the streambed. When I wasn’t there he had decided to head back towards the car until he found some cell reception to hopefully find out where I was.

      So I replied to him I would head out towards Catchpool as that was my safest route out and with only a few hours until darkness I did not want to be off track in Hinakitaka Stream. I am very familiar with the Catchpool Valley tracks so doing the final part in the darkness was safer than possibly being caught out in the stream in the darkness. Meanwhile Tony would continue his walk out and drive around to meet me. 

      I started the knee-bashing descent to Orongorongo River. It actually felt a little easier than normal and I wasn’t as much of a downhill nana as usual. I suspect I was moving on a lot of adrenaline though after our unplanned afternoon drama. There had been a fair bit of rain during the week so the Orongorongo river was slightly higher than normal but I made an assessment that it was still very easy for me to safely cross. I also decided I could safely walk down the river to Turere Bridge rather than using the Big Bend track as this is the quickest option. I gunned it down the river, stopping for a few photos of the reflections of the trees and clouds in the water and occasionally spotting the odd person in the distance, before joining the track at Turere Bridge (or Banana Bridge as I fondly call it). I got out my headlamp in preparation for when it got dark and munched on my emergency sandwich as I was now doing a much longer day than planned.

      Topiary on the Mt Matthews track

      I made quick work of the track and could see the edges of what would have been a spectacular sunset through the trees on the Orongorongo Track. I was hoping I might be lucky enough to hear some kiwi calls as it is pretty neat to know they are wandering around out there but unfortunately I didn’t get lucky enough on that one—another time! I eventually got to Catchpool carpark and started down the road toward Wainuiomata Coast Road knowing Tony would not be able to drive up because the gate closed at 6 pm. 

      We may have also agreed that we will bungee cord ourselves together on our next trip.  

      Sarah Fisher, 22 April 2022. 

    • #51644 Reply
      jonathan Ravens

      Your topiary pic is where the Great Shingle Slide drops off to the NW, just for future reference.

    • #51646 Reply
      Tony G

      Thanks for the info Jonathan. I’ve heard talk of that slide – it will make a nice day trip sometime soon now I know where to access it.


      • #51882 Reply

        Very wonderful photos, it makes me want to drop everything and go there…

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